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Published:December 16th, 2005 20:40 EST

Baltimore picketers protest unfair wages

By Yvonne Battle-Felton

BALTIMORE--Tourists, executives, professionals, office staff, shoppers, construction workers, residents, families and homeless people, on any given day, at any given time people’s paths intersect in front of the 11 story office building at 400 East Pratt.   The interaction is usually brief: a nod, a glance, a smile. It is after all only a small part of anyone’s day, barely acknowledged, barely noticed. Each day these people pause and then go on about the business of doing business.

But not this week. 

This week picketers march in front of the professional office building. “Go away,” they chant, “Who’s the rat? Starkey! Where’s the rat? 400 East Pratt! What do we want? Fair Market wage! What do we want? Rat Out! Rat Out! Rat Out! Holla!” 

Despite the noise, the protest is an orderly one, the 30 men and women march the oblong path the length of the building, which spans the entire block, chanting and carrying signs.  Clipboards in hand, organizers huddle along the sidelines trying to get people to sign the petition or to notice the picketers.

The Baltimore Examiner, a tenant at 400 East Pratt Street, hired Constantine Commercial Construction to reconstruct their new office space.  Constantine contracted Starkey Construction to perform the work.  The permits and licenses were obtained and verified.  Colliers Pinkard, the company who manages the building, does not require tenants to use specific contractors, they only require outside contractors to verify insurance before work begins.

The construction workers arrived bright and early Monday morning, bringing with them equipment, measurements and picketers.  According to one of the construction workers the picketers have been following them around from job to job for the past few months.

According to Alan Schuttler of Mid Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, his picketers have been picketing Starkey job sites for the past six months. Schuttler said Starkey’s construction workers are non-union, which means they are not being paid area standards wages.  Schuttler said his group of picketers represents the workers, not the union.

“It’s our business to find out who’s doing what in construction,” Schuttler said.  Schuttler is in the business of picketing for worker’s rights. His line represents the Area Standards Picket Line at construction sites around the city.  He said all of the picketers are paid and represent the Mid Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters.   He also added that they are not required to be construction workers. 

Tim Carlton, a representative of Map Communications which has offices at the Pratt Street location, said it was obvious the picketers were not construction workers. 

“I recognize most of them, especially the one that looks like she's two days younger than God” Carlton said.  "You can’t tell me she’s out there doing construction. They are a bunch of homeless people that they hire.”

Ken Frohling, president of the Flairview Travel/Hotel Club.Net, which also has offices at the site, said, “If you think about it, pro or anti-union, they don’t want you using out-sourced labor, which is exactly what they’re doing. If those guys [construction workers] really want work, they’d be out there protesting for $10 an hour, it’s hypocritical.”

MedPro Staffing recruiter Lisa Faussey said she agrees with hiring homeless people, but does not think people should be paid to protest for someone else.

Schuttler thinks there is nothing wrong with paying people to picket and said he would have a line of construction workers marching if his company were staging a strike against Starkey.

It would be misleading, he explained, to hire picketers for a strike.  Schuttler said all of his picketers are not homeless and hiring picketers is his “way of giving back to the community,” he said.  Schuttler said picketing may be the stepping stone some of his temporary employees need to get full-time jobs.